Legend of Vitthal Temple
The "Vi" in Lord Vithoba's name denotes knowledge and "Thoba" denotes shape. He is the shape of knowledge or the idol of knowledge. Another interpretation is that the word "Vitthala" is said to be derived from the Marathi word "Vit", meaning brick. The reason behind the brick will be explained later in this article. "Ba" is used to denote "father" in Marathi.
Lord Vithal/ Vitthal/ Vithoba is none other than Lord Vishnu, Lord Narayana or Lord Krishna. It is believed that Lord Krishna had incarnated at the end of Dwarpa Yuga on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the holy month of Shravan (As per the Hindu calendar). He is lovingly called names like Pandrinath, Panduranga, Pandhairiraya, Vithai, Vithoba, Vithu-mauli, Vitthalgururao by his devotees. But the well-known and commonly used names are Pandurang / Panduranga and Shri Vitthal / Vithal. The word Vitthala is said to be derived from the Kannada (a language spoken in the southern parts of India) word for Lord Vishnu. The worship of Lord Vitthala has been derived mainly from the Puranas. His worship has been made well-known by the teachings, poems, kirtans, and pads of great Vaishnava saints of Maharashtra from the 13th through the 17th centuries. They were saints like Sant Namdeo /Namdev, Sant Jnaneshwar, Sant Eknath and Sant Tukaram. Pundalik, a saint was closely associated with this shrine, and hence this shrine is also known as Pundarika Pura.
According to the legend, there was once a devoted son called Pundalik. He looked after the needs of his father Janudev and his mother Satyavati. But things changed when Pundalik got married. He started ill treating them. Tired of his tyranny, the parents decided to head for Kashi / Varanasi. It is said that those who die in Kashi attain salvation and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This is still believed today and many people travel there when they feel their end is near.
Hearing his parents plans, Pundalik and his wife decided to join them. His treachery continued so much that he made his old parents walk throughout the journey while he and his young wife rode on a horse. On the way, they came across the hermitage of the venerable sage, Kukkutswami. Tired of the long journey, the group decided to spend some days there. That night, Pundalik lay awake and witnessed something remarkable. Just before dawn, he saw a group of beautiful, young women dressed in dirty clothes, enter the Sage's hermitage. They did chores like cleaning the floor, fetching water and washing the Sage's clothes. After that, they went to the prayer room. When they came out, their clothes were spotlessly clean and they disappeared. Pundalik wasn't alarmed seeing this but rather he felt at peace. He kept thinking about the incident the following day. He wanted to be sure that he was not dreaming but had truly witnessed such a glorious incident. So he remained awake again. But this time, he got closer and decided to speak to the women.
"Who are you all?"
"We are Ganga, Yamuna and all the holy rivers of India. People take a dip and bathe in us to wipe away their sins. The impurity of their mind, body and souls make us dirty. That's why you see our clothes in such filthy condition." Pundalik was amazed with their answer.
"But you are the biggest sinner of all because of the way you treat your parents."
This was a rude awakening for Pundalik. He realized his mistake and changed his ways. He served his parents well and looked after all their needs and comforts. It is said that devotion in any form reaches God. Seeing Pundalik's sincere devotion towards his parents, Lord Vishnu was extremely pleased. He left his abode - Vaikauntha Lok to bless Pundalik.
Lord Vishnu reached Pundalik's house and knocked on his door but he was serving food to his parents. Pundalik saw the Lord at his door but his devotion to his parents was so intense that he wanted to finish his duties first and then attend to his guest. It didn't matter to him whether the guest was a mere mortal or God.
Pundalik gave the Lord a brick to stand on and asked Him to wait until his duty was completed. The ever-loving Lord was so pleased with his devotee that He waited for him. When Pundalik came out, he asked God's forgiveness for neglecting Him, but the Lord instead asked him to request a boon and it would be fulfilled.What more could a devotee ask when his Lord was standing right in front of him? Pundalik asked that He should remain on earth and bless all His devotees. His wish was granted and the Lord remained behind and is known as Vithoba or the Lord who stands on a brick.This form of the Lord is Swayambhu which means that His idol has not been carved or etched but it came into existence on its own. He is accompanied by His consort Rakhumai or Rukmini.